My Teachers: Theodora Cooper (Gold Edition)

Last week, technical difficulties prevented us from presenting this post in full. We now run it in its entirety.


Mrs. Cooper was my fourth grade teacher. I remember her (from the vantage point of a half century past) as an “older” woman with graying hair that probably had been blonde. Of course, as a fourth grader, I had no clue as to her actual age. All I know is that looked older than my mother who was 31 years old as I began fourth grade. She wore glasses which she kept on a chain around her neck. She dressed conservatively. I don’t recall her voice, but she liked to laugh when laughter was called for. Somehow, I associated her with the term “grandmother,” but I’ve subsequently learned that she was not ever a grandmother.

She liked to laugh when laughter was called for.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Mrs Cooper 50 years later:

Theodora Erikson was born in Oscoda Township, Iosco County 1, Michigan, near the shores of Lake Huron on 22 January 1907 2. She was the seventh of nine children3,4 of Charles Severin Erikson (8 Mar 1862-9 Jan 1933)5, 6 and Natale Erikson (7 Jun 1873-2 Aug 1941)7, 8, who had come to America from Sweden in the 1880s. Charles Erikson worked in construction for the township road department.

(Mrs Cooper never mentioned her status as a first-generation American, nor anything about her Swedish heritage. How interesting that might have been to our class!)

“Teddy,” as she was called, attended Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti9. She was active in the Euclidian Club 10. This activity would serve her well in her later career. Teddy was also an active member of the Upsilon chapter of Theta Lambda Sigma sorority. 11.

Teddy eventually earned a Lifetime Certificate in Teaching from the Michigan State Normal School12(the school is now known as Eastern Michigan University). She taught in several rural and urban communities, including the village of Harrisville in Alcona County, Michigan13

She met and married Ray Cooper, a physician, and they took up residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico14 In Albuquerque, Teddy earned a Bachelors of Science degree in education from the University of New Mexico in 1948 15. When she thereafter began teaching for the Albuquerque Public Schools, Mrs Cooper was assigned to the elementary school at the semi-secret atomic weapons installation in southeast Albuquerque16 known as Sandia Base.

Sandia Base was the follow-on to the Manhattan Project and thus was the nation’s premier nuclear weapons base throughout most of the Cold War17. At Sandia Base Elementary School, Teddy Cooper taught the children of highly trained military personnel and civilian nuclear scientists. She spent twenty-five years at Sandia Base Elementary School before retiring.

Mrs. Cooper became very popular with her students, her colleagues, and the Sandia Base parents. She frequently teamed with her friend and colleague, Nathalie Harshman, to team-teach various subjects18 Around the state of New Mexico, she was regarded as an expert in the teaching of arithmetic, and frequently was called upon to attend teacher conferences to demonstrate her techniques19 She also enjoyed and excelled at the teaching of reading.

(I always thought of her as a reading specialist. My reading skills took a quantum leap forward under Mrs. Cooper’s tutelage and the use of the relatively new SRA Reading Laboratory, which I enjoyed immensely. She read to us and had us read parts of sevreal books, including Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Dolittle. I’ve never seen an adult laugh as hard as Mrs Cooper did watching my classmate Billy Smith do his impression of the Hefalump!)

Teddy Cooper was active in the Association of American University Women and the New Mexico Council of Teachers of Mathematics 20. She founded the Junior Red Cross chapter at Sandia Base Elementary School21 She was especially empathic with a great sense of humor.

Mrs. Cooper, the daughter of Swedish immigrants and a transplant to New Mexico from Michigan, taught us Spanish. After a year with her, I had nearly the same fluency as someone of comparable age who had been raised in the language. I was especially pleased that she selected me to play El mal lobo in the class production of Los Tres Cerditos.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, Mrs. Cooper had dismissed our class for lunch. When we returned, most of us had already heard the tragic news and were not surprised to find our fourth grade teacher weeping openly over the murder of the President of the United States 22 The President had visited Sandia Base less than a year earlier and his motorcade had passed down Wyoming Boulevard which ran directly adjacent to the school’s front lawn 23, Over the next several weeks, Mrs Cooper made special efforts to help her students cope with the emotional depression that had settled like a fog over the entire nation.

Teddy’s husband, Ray, died an early death and she never re-married. They had one child, Foster Cooper 24

Theodora Erikson Cooper died on Sunday, June 4, 2006 25, 26.
She was 99 years old. She is buried in Oscoda, Michigan.


Special Thanks to the Huron Shores Genealogical Society of Iosco County, Michigan, for their great resources which contributed to this piece!

Show 26 footnotes

  1. There is also an Oscoda County
  2. Social Security Death Index (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011.
    Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration
  3. Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Oscoda, Iosco, Michigan; Roll: T625_773; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 187; Image: 673
  4. Obituary of Theodora Cooper, Albuquerque Journal, 10 June 2006
  5. Michigan, Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011
  6. Index to Death Records: 1867-1952, AuSable & Oscoda Townships, Michigan; Huron Shores Genealogy Society, 2000, found at Michigan GenWeb Archives,
  7. Michigan, Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011
  8. Index to Death Records: 1867-1952, AuSable & Oscoda Townships, Michigan; Huron Shores Genealogy Society, 2000, found at Michigan GenWeb Archives,
  9. 1926 Aurora Yearbook, Michigan State Normal School, Ypsilanti, Michigan;, (hereafter, “1926 Aurora”).
  10. a club devoted to getting stuednts “to see the fun in mathematics,”[10. 1926 Aurora, p. 347
  11. 1926 Aurora Yearbook, p. 178
  12. Obituary of Theodora Cooper, Albuquerque Journal, 10 July 2006
  13. Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Harrisville, Alcona, Michigan; Roll: 972; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 7; Image: 59.0. Source 1930 United States Federal Census (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.
  14. I haven’t been able to adequately source this.
  15. Largest Class in History of University to Sally Forth June 7, Albuquerque Journal, 16 May 1948, p4., col. 2
  16. “Names of 1025 Principals, Teachers, Aides Listed,” The Albuquerque Tribune, 21 Aug 1952, pp. 10-11, col. 1
  17. See ibid
  18. See. e.g., Three R’s Program set at Sandia Base School, Albuquerque Journal, 5 November 1954, p. 23. col. 1
  19. Arithmetic Course Offered Teachers, Albuquerque Journal, 6 July 1962, p. C-7, col. 1
  20. Obituary of Theodora Cooper, Albuquerque Journal, 10 July 2006
  21. Junior Red Cross to be Sonsored by 40 Teachers, Albuquerque Journal, 15 October 1962, p. 29, col 1
  22. President Kennedy Assassinated; Sniper Wounds Governor of Texas, The Albuquerque Tribune, 22 November 1963, p.1 (Extra Edition)
  23. JFK Heads for Albuquerque, The Albuquerque Tribune, 7 December 1962, p.1
  24. Brides to be: Thomson, Cooper, Albuquerque Journal, 13 December 1970, p. B-11
  25. Social Security Death Index (database on-line) Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
  26. Obituary of Theodora Cooper, Albuquerque Journal, 10 July 2006

5 Responses to “My Teachers: Theodora Cooper (Gold Edition)”

  • Gabriella Garlock says:

    Teddy was my great-aunt also! A few years before her death she toured China–while in her nineties. After that I was lucky enough to go spend a week with her in Albuquerque. She made me waffles from scratch.
    Aunt Teddy and two of her sisters visited their first cousins in Sweden in 1969. Because of that, a distant cousin there “found” us again last year, and I’m going to stay with him in Sweden this summer to keep the family ties going, just as Teddy did.

  • Judy Erikson says:

    This is just wonderful to hear about Aunt Teddy. My husband John is her nephew and my father-inlaw her brother. I adored this woman as she just brought such light in too our lives when we saw her. I know my husband tells such wonderful stories of growing up with her in his life as a child. I must admit I loved her brother Jack also and could not have asked for a better father -inlaw. May they both RIP. Thanks Craig

  • Wendy Erikson says:

    I was searching the Internet for something else and came across this post. Your teacher was my Great Aunt Teddy. It’s nice to know, although it doesn’t surprise me at all, that she had such an impact on her students. She was a wonderful woman and I have such lovely memories of her. I was lucky to see her just a few months before she died and she was still as sharp as ever. She had recently completed a family history that we Erikson’s are blessed to have. Thank you for your lovely post!

  • Craig says:

    Thanks, Marie! Here’s a funny story about the SRA program in Mrs Cooper’s class: As was her practice, she told me one day that I was doing well, but she didn’t tell me how well. Her purpose was to inspire me to do even better. Somehow, I found out (probably from one of the classroom snoops, although I really don’t remember how) that there was just one other person who advanced as far as I had. That person was girl named Ginny Lodge. Ginny lived in the same cul de sac as my family. In my nine year old hubris, I was determined that I could not let a girl beat me at this. So I worked even harder. Apparently so did Ginny Lodge. Pretty soon it became apparent to me that the only interesting person with any thing in common to talk about was Ginny Lodge! And so, suitably impressed and humbled, I acquired my first friend who happened to be a girl! (In the usual course of military life, Ginny’s family moved the following summer and I never saw her again.) But the lesson I learned from the experience turned out to be one that served me well as I have had female colleagues and bosses throughout my career.

  • Marie says:

    Thanks, Craig! This is an especially touching post. I have fond memories using the SRA kits, too. Many years later, I was tickled pink to find a complete set in a district warehouse, and was able to incorporate the still-valid material in the curriculum for my students.

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